Potty dance at Costco: Can a good mom let 5-year-old “go” alone?

Costco bathroom is the scene of another free-range parenting controversy. If a 5-year-old is doing the potty dance in the check-out line, does a good mom allow her kid to use the bathroom alone?

Peter Andrews/Reuters
When a 5-year-old did the potty dance in a Costco check-out line, one mother allowed her daughter to go to the toilet alone, courting some good mother vs. bad mother controversy in the process.

 Hi Readers! You’d think that, after a certain point, I would be inured to cultural confoundedness. (Or  at least know how to write a sentence in English.) But in fact it is still amazing to me how wild the public imagination has become and how eager it is to imagine the most extremely unlikely, horrifying scenarios. It really is mass psychosis. And here’s just another instance of it, from Hannah Zuniga, a reader who describes herself as a Common Sense Mom.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I received my first verbal hand slap regarding my child raising. I have a 5-year-old daughter, a 1-year-old son, and a third on the way. A few weeks ago I was checking out at Costco when my daughter, Elayna, said she had to go to the bathroom. I was at a register near the end where the bathroom was in plain sight, so I told her to go. (She has been allowed to use public bathrooms by herself for some time now, although I am always close by. We are also at Costco once a week, so she is well acquainted with the bathroom.) I finished checking out and pushed my cart and son over to the bathroom and waited for her to come out.

A 5-year-old alone in a public restroom?

After a few minutes, I began to wonder what was taking so long. I wasn’t worried, just curious. Then a woman came out and asked if I was waiting for a little girl in a dress. I said yes, and she told me that my daughter was washing her hands. She laughed and said, “She seems to really like the hand dryers because she’s washed her hands at least three times.” I laughed, too, and a moment later my daughter came running out, holding up her hands for me to smell because they were so nice and clean. She was very proud of herself.

But what about the predators?

Later that evening, I told my husband, who thought it was funny. The next day, I told my mom, who also thought it was funny. A few days later, my mom told the women she worked with who were absolutely shocked and horrified that I let my daughter go in by herself: “What if someone had taken her?”

My mom tried to point out that I was close enough to see the bathroom the entire time and no one could have gotten past me with my daughter. She pointed out that in a busy place like Costco, it was very unlikely that anyone could kidnap a screaming little girl. She explained that my daughter had been allowed to use public bathrooms herself for the last six months, and that she is a smart, capable child. She also explained that, so far, the only issue Elayna had run into was that some restroom doors are very heavy and hard to open, but that was why Mom, Dad, Grandma, or Grandpa was always near by. Grandpa learned very quickly that Elayna could go in by herself and, if he was concerned, he could always ask one of the women coming or going to check on her, and these “dangerous” strangers were always happy to help.

Would a good mom let her daughter go to the bathroom alone?

The women at my mom’s work were not mollified, and continued to go down the list of possible things that could have happened.

But they didn’t happen. What happened was that I was able to check out without having to get out of line. My daughter didn’t have to do the potty dance while waiting for me. I didn’t have to abandon my shopping cart while juggling my son and purse just to stand and watch her do something she’s been capable of doing since she was two. And my daughter got a little boost of pride and self-confidence by doing something herself. But the overall consensus seems to be that I am a bad mother. I guess I’ll just have to live with it.  - Hannah

Lenore here: And you’ll just have to live with most of us here thinking you are a smart and sane mother, raising what sounds like a lovely little girl!

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Lenore Skenazy blogs at Free-Range Kids.

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